Here in the hamlet of Balmville in Newburgh, New York are the remains of the Balmville Tree. Estimated to have started growing in 1699, the Balmville Tree was the oldest recorded Eastern Cottonwood in the United States.
The tree is located at the intersection of 3 old Indian trails and was originally thought to be a Balm of Gilead tree, leading to the surrounding area to be named “Balmville.”
During the Revolutionary War, an old tavern was located next to the tree and patrons would enjoy their drinks under the shade of the tree’s branches.
It would remain a popular destination into the 18th-century when Newburghers began a Sunday afternoon tradition of walking out to the tree.
Over its long life, the Balmville Tree has sprouted a number of legends, including the idea that it sprang from George Washington’s riding crop when he was stationed in Newburgh. But, the tree began life 33 years before Washington was even born.
Another legend involves the famous brewer and founder of Vassar College, Matthew Vassar. Vassar had run away from home to work in Balmville for a while and it’s said that one night he slept under the Balmville Tree and woke so refreshed, that he returned to Poughkeepsie and established his famous brewery.
Franklin Roosevelt is known to have stopped and admired the tree several times when visiting his relatives, the Delanos, whose estate was located nearby.
In 1976, the Balmville Tree became the first individually protected tree in New York State history. It would go on to be enclosed by a fieldstone wall in 1995 and thus become New York State’s smallest public park, but by that time most of the trunk and branches were hollow and required a steel mast and wired system.
Sadly, in 2015 the tree was cut down because of safety concerns, but the trunk still remains and an exhibit that includes pieces of the tree can be seen at nearby Chadwick Lake Park.
Balmville Tree Exhibit at Chadwick Lake